So put your little hand in mine/there ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb

Clasped Hands of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning Sculpture; Sculpture
Harriet Hosmer – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons by as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Interesting piece in The Times today, which set off thoughts about loneliness, sadness, chronic pain and, you’ll not be surprised to hear from me, reading.  Pavel Goldstein, a neuroscientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, The Times reports, has published a paper on hand holding and pain in the journal PNAS,

Neuroscientists think that the empathy one partner feels for the other can be passed on through touch as the pair’s brainwaves begin to dance to the same rhythms. This in turn helps to curb distress and floods the brain with reward chemicals that muffle the pain.

The pain relief appears to be tightly bound up with affection. It was most powerful in the couples who had the most closely connected patterns of electrical activity in their brains.

Lots to think about here, as the study did not find the same effects in both women and men. Further, other scientists, of course, disagree;

Flavia Mancini, of the University of Cambridge, said it was important to show that the effect could work on chronic pain as well as short, sharp suffering. “Social touch may help, but in my opinion what really matters is social connection,” she said. “We should not let others suffer in isolation, with or without the touch of a partner.”

What came into my mind as I read was the memory of Doris Lessing talking  to me about people synching brainwaves (something she had learned in or through her Sufi practice, I seem to remember, but it is all so long ago, perhaps I’ve made that part up).

At the time – but what time? Shall we say  late 1980s, when I was oh, not yet forty… At the time, I thought it was a deeply attractive, true-feeling possibility but also impossible to prove and  maybe a bit crazy. Doris was utterly convinced. I paraphrase but she said something like , when people sit together and concentrate their minds sink and their brain waves all enter the same state…

I think Doris was talking about meditation or prayer groups (but look at the Nurenburg Rallies, I bet  brainwaves were synched there, too) Later as The Reader developed, and I had many experiences in Shared Reading groups of people sitting together and directly their  concentration in one place I  knew that Doris was right.  People get together in someway, and it feels good.

What has this to do with pain?

I don’t know, I was thinking about another recent study which showed that physical pain inhibitors such as paracetamol  also inhibit emotional pain.

I was thinking  I wish I would stop thinking of the  body as one thing and the rest of me as something else.

I was thinking of the importance of physical touch and ridiculous risk-averse guidelines which routinely suggest children should not be hugged  or kissed even by foster-parents? Can this really be true?

Thinking of love poetry, too.

Thinking of young (and old) lovers holding hands.

And thinking of a circle of people, linked and synched by the language of the book.

No time to work these thoughts out this morning, just jotting them there, for perhaps future reference.


One thought on “So put your little hand in mine/there ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb

  1. drjanedavis February 28, 2018 / 11:08 am

    A reader emailed me to say :

    I wrote a lengthyish response on your blog this morning but seems to have gotten lost….which is frustrating and all too frequent for me. So this time I’m just emailing you direct and it is not flowing as it did this morning so it is just the gist of what I wanted to say this time !

    Your blog made me think of this lovely short poem by Elizabeth Jennings:

    Hand closed upon another, warm.
    The other, cold, turned round and met
    And found a weather made of calm.
    So sadness goes, and so regret.

    A touch, a magic in the hand.
    Not that the fortune-teller sees
    Or thinks that she can understand.
    This warm hand binds but also frees.

    Elizabeth Jennings

    When I was reading in a Nursing Home with people with dementia, mostly quite advanced, one man had a strong response to this poem. He never stayed with us for more that 25 or 30 minutes and often for only 5 or 10, shuffling into or out of the room mid session, looking lost and bewildered, unreachable. I’d never had any discernable response from him.

    However on the day I took this poem and with the reading of the first line he looked up at me with a look of recognition – something I’d never seen in him before. He looked startled into being present. He seemed not able to speak – I’d not ever heard him say a word so assumed he had lost the capacity for language – but he looked like he wanted to say something, he was communicating very powerfully with his eyes, almost pleadingly. In that moment I was unsure how to respond given his inability to let me into his experience but had a sort of strong realisation that I could probably work it out so let myself just relax and feel, and found myself saying ‘you know what that is like don’t you Steve, having a hand closed in yours?’ His eyes seemed to respond and we had a moment of real connection. I said a few more things about his wife – assumed he had or had had one, and families and holding children’s hands while connecting with his eyes, then he was gone. I never had any other response from him after that but it has remained a powerful memory of connection, this poem and the power of touch.

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